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Review: Graham Parker & the Rumour return to form at the Roxy

December 12, 2012|By Randall Roberts | Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Graham Parker performs at the Roxy. The English singer gigged with his band the Rumour in celebration of its appearance in Judd Apatow's new movie, "This Is 40."
Graham Parker performs at the Roxy. The English singer gigged with his band… (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles…)

One of Graham Parker’s great choruses is his simplest. The British singer and songwriter delivered it near the end of a reunion set at the Roxy on Tuesday night with his razor-sharp band the Rumour. “Passion is no ordinary word,” sang Parker, 62, in a song of the same name, wearing his requisite indoor sunglasses and stretching toward the microphone. “Ain’t manufactured, or just another sound that you hear at night.”

Graham Parker & the Rumour, the rock band from London whose work in the 1970s and early ’80s was born of the working-class pub rock movement, never achieved major fame in the States, even if they received heaps of acclaim and delivered a version of said passion night after night for years.

Parker’s solid songs, and the dueling guitars of masters Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont, contained wit, smarts and attitude, all of which he and the band still possessed all these years later.

During his rise, Parker was lumped in with the whole “angry young man” thing with Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Nick Lowe. On Tuesday, he proved that 35 years after his debut album, “Howlin’ Wind,” that anger still leaped out of the songs -- and that it hadn’t festered into bitterness.

Parker parted ways with the Rumour in the early ’80s and embarked on a solo career that has resulted in a dozen-and-a-half studio albums, some better than others, but none considered landmarks.

He and the Rumour -- keyboardist Bob Andrews, guitarists Schwarz and Belmont, drummer Steve Goulding and bassist Andrew Brodner -- were making a return to Los Angeles for a few reasons. They were supporting their first record since 1980’s “The Up Escalator,” called “Three Chords Good”; and a fictional story line in the new Judd Apatow film, “This Is 40,” has the band members appearing as themselves working with a manager played by Paul Rudd to jump-start their career.

The film’s premiere is Wednesday in Hollywood, and many crew members were at the Roxy front and center, including Apatow and Rudd. They, along with a venue full of fiftysomething men (and a few outlying women and youth), witnessed singer Ryan Adams and then singer-guitarist-Fleetwood Mac member Lindsey Buckingham open for Parker, offering songs that appear in “This Is 40.” (Due to traffic on La Cienega, this writer regretfully missed Adams.)

Parker and band did the same early in their set and in a glorious, transcendent second half offered a list of classic Parker gems, including “Discovering Japan,” “Howlin’ Wind,” “Protection,” “Stick to Me” and others.

Parker looked and sounded great, was in high spirits and happy to share stories of earlier appearances at the Roxy. He told of learning that one show’s guest list in the ’70s included Diana Ross, Joe Cocker and Van Morrison, and recalled songs he played on various jaunts to L.A.

But he also had a mission, which was to funnel some of this Hollywood attention on his and the Rumour’s new material, from “Three Chords Good.” Those songs -- including “Coathangers,” “Long Emotional Ride” and the title track -- showed a songwriter still engaged in a search for the perfect line crafted in the perfect order to capture the perfect emotion.

But this new work contained little of the old stuff’s swing. Those classic rockers from records including “Squeezing Out Sparks,” “Heat Treatment” and “Stick to Me” featured a band in love with the chunka-chunka backbeat rhythms of reggae and able to convey that movement with danceable momentum. Like kindred Ian Dury would have done had he survived, at the band’s best on Tuesday -- “Stupefaction,” “Protection,” “Local Girls” -- Parker managed to get a bunch of aging blokes to swivel their hips just a touch, while nodding and singing along enthusiastically.

Parker and the band did two encores, and they could have come back for a third. But they chose to dig deep as a benediction: with the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” presented with big energy and keen understanding of the propellant soul rhythms at the song’s core.

No, Parker didn’t hit MJ’s falsetto wails. That’s not his place. Wisely, he didn’t even try. Instead, he delivered it with timeless, ageless spirit.

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